A NEW advice service for people aged over 75 was launched in Darlington this week.

Darlington Citizens' Advice Bureau has secured funding for a two-year project, aimed at helping vulnerable members of the community with benefits.

The cash for the scheme has come from a £13m National pension Service Partnership Fund, which was launched two weeks ago by Pensions Minister, Malcolm Wicks.

In partnership with local doctors' surgeries, the bureau is aiming to track down people who would not normally access the service.

Acting manager Sue Stahl said: "We begin next week with patients registered at Neasham Road surgery. Letters will be sent out inviting patients to contact the bureau to talk to an adviser.

"Appointments can be arranged to suit the individual. This can be at the GP surgery, in the main bureau, over the phone or a home visit."

Some of the benefits which older people may be entitled to, even if they have substantial savings, are pension credit, attendance allowance and council tax benefit.

The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that 3.75m households eligible for pension credit are not claiming it.

Its target is to have three million extra households receiving this money by March 2006. In the past three months, only 30,000 people have signed up for pension credit.

Mrs Stahl said: "Far too many pensioners are living below the poverty line, and half of all those eligible are still not receiving their fair share.

"It has been identified that people over 75 are the least likely to claim their entitlement to additional income, because they face particular barriers, including health and social issues.

"A chat with one of our advisers could increase weekly income considerably."

For details please call (01325) 256477 between 9am and noon, weekdays.